Tennis Prose



Nick Bollettieri Celebration Of Life Today

By Scoop Malinowski

There was never a figure in tennis so inspiring, energizing and uniquely recognizable as Nick Bollettieri and there never will be. Today his life was celebrated inside a packed IMG Academy basketball gym by about 800 people associated with him in one way or another.

The world renowned tennis coach, academy founder, inspirational motivator and friend of countless numbers of people passed away late last year at age 91 during the Eddie Herr International junior tennis at the academy he envisioned and created over five decades ago.

The invitation only audience consisted of Grand Slam champions, former players and students, fans, some media and various other friends, family and admirers. It is an error in judgement that the Tennis Channel or ESPN did not film the event to broadcast at a later date.

Monica Seles made a video tribute saying “Not only is he probably the greatest coach in the world but he’s the best motivator I’ve ever met.”

Cindy Bollettieri, his last wife, revealed when they married about twenty years ago Nick was older than her parents, was in a mountain of debt and she didn’t know anything about tennis. But it worked. She also misses the little things about Nick, for a silly example, how he could eat 12 ears of corn in one sitting.

Jimmy Arias, now the IMG director of tennis, called Nick a “godfather of tennis” and “though the academy is now called IMG, it’s really Nick’s place.” As he said that comment, Red Ayme, seated in the eighth row, wearing a blue IMG shirt and sunglasses, raised both hands and applauded the statement. Many others repeated the gesture.

Ayme first united with Nick 38 years ago and started as a bus driver. He later was a traveling coach for Tommy Haas and Marcelo Rios, among others, and today he’s still a coach at IMG. Was he wearing sunglasses inside the gym for the entire two hour ceremony to hide tears?

I noticed several people with teary eyes. It’s awe inspiring to think of the impact Nick had on so many lives.

Nick’s students came from all over. David Wheaton read the “Invocation” and “Benediction.” Carling Bassett Seguso sat in row three behind Kathy Horvath. Mary Pierce a couple of seats away. Max Mirnyi also attended, saying if Nick didn’t let him train in Bradenton as a teen he wouldn’t have become a Grand Slam champion. Ex player Bobby Blair came all the way from Las Vegas. Ex NBTA employee Chip Hart flew in from Wisconsin. Lisa Kerkorian came from West Palm Beach. Anne White from Los Angeles. Mary Carillo sat in row 8. Former Nick coaches Julio Moros and Bunner Smith also attended. Oh, I almost forgot, Yury Bettoni, Tony Zanoni, Byron Smith, Pete Carpenter, Dave Burgett, Jim Elder, Bob Davis, Roger Blackburn, Ann Grossman, The Koz, Chris Evert, and Elizabeth Moore Sarasota Open ATP Challenger emcee Ray Collins were there too. (Sorry to all that I didn’t mention.)

(All of Nick’s family was there – wife Cindy; sons, Jimmy, Giacomo, Giovanni; daughters, Danielle, Angelique, Nicole, Alexandra; four grandchildren, Willa Bay Breunich, Addie Breunich, Hudson Kroenig, Jameson Kroenig.)

Emcee host and friend Steve Shenbaum, who was wonderful, closed the ceremony with a message to follow Nick’s example and try to inspire those we encounter and try recognize talent in everyone and let them know about it.

Longtime Nick assistant Steve Shulla was another outstanding highlight speaker.

As I listened to all the speakers respect Nick and share memories, I thought of my own standout experiences with Nick and there were so many. In 1992, my first year as a reporter doing Biofile interviews for the Morristown Daily Record in NJ, somehow I managed to set up and do a phone Biofile interview with Nick and I still remember what a thrill it was to actually talk to the Wimbledon winning coach and him giving me the time. Back then I was totally irrelevant in tennis but Nick still took the time to do an interview with a nobody. In following years he was always accessible where ever I saw him and no matter what I asked him about – Safin, Rios, McEnroe, Djokovic, he would always give much better content than I hoped for. He even told me he loved my Marcelo Rios: The Man We Barely Knew book and called it amazing. Oh, and his favorite music? The Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever is the best album ever made.

And every time I saw Nick at a pro tennis tournament he always magnetized fans who wanted to see him, talk with him or take a photo. And he engaged with EVERYBODY every single time. It’s possible nobody in tennis history touched as many lives in a positive manner than Nick.

If the spirit of Nick Bollettieri managed to find the time to attend and observe the celebration of his life today, there is not an iota of doubt the feeling of joy he felt would have exceeded the 1992 Wimbledon final triumph of one of his best players.

Above all of our heads on the scoreboard over the basketball court showed a photo of Nick and one of his quotes: “Believe in yourself and never doubt your ability to do it.” His example and messages will live for centuries.

Link to my book Nick Bollettieri: Godfather Of Modern Tennis amazon books $8.99!

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  • Tim Davide · March 19, 2023 at 2:39 pm

    Hey great article yes I was there yesterday I’m a former student he gave so much in a couple years I was there he was always gracious to come up and talk to me and also even had the chance to meet my mom a couple years later when she came down to visit me like a lot of people were saying when they spoke at the ceremony I don’t know where I would be today if it was not for the Academy and for Nick creating it to give me the opportunities I have today I’m blessed and grateful I will miss you and think of you often love you coach TD

  • Scoop Malinowski · March 19, 2023 at 10:25 pm

    Beautiful words and tribute Tim, thanks for sharing. Said it before, I’ll say it again, Nick Bollettieri has made a positive impact on more people than some grand slam champions. Special guy. We are all lucky to have met and encountered and been his friend. You meet Nick and he made you feel like a friend.

  • Tim S · March 24, 2023 at 3:35 pm

    Your link says not secure

  • Scoop Malinowski · March 24, 2023 at 7:45 pm

    Tim S, yes that issue has been resolved…Sorry for the inconvenience…



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